- Prep time 15 minutes
- Cook time 25 minutes
- Serves 4-6
A simple stovetop mac and cheese is a thing of beauty — especially when it’s a one-pot affair. Think of this version, made entirely in one pot with earthy butternut squash and hearty fall herbs, as the adult, autumnal version of a childhood classic. To help stabilize the sauce, the pasta is cooked in a mixture of water and evaporated milk. As the pasta cooks, the butternut squash boils alongside it, melting into the sauce and lending it a subtle sweetness and orange hue. Right before serving, white cheddar and Parmesan get mixed into the residual starchy cooking liquid to create a creamy, perfectly emulsified cheese sauce without the need for a roux. The resulting mac and cheese is rich, decadent, and properly cheesy with savory notes of woody fall herbs and tender squash throughout. It’s a bit of kitchen alchemy, and one that will have you wondering why every mac and cheese isn’t a one-pot endeavor.
And before you get started, a word of advice: Once you finish cooking your mac and cheese, let it sit for 10 minutes before serving. The sauce has a tendency to thicken up, so go ahead and thin it out with warm water before serving to achieve your ideal texture. The starchy sauce allows you to add as much water as you need without it breaking or losing its creamy consistency, so don’t be nervous about adding too much. The sauce is stable and reheats surprisingly well, unlike most roux-based mac and cheeses. While the mac and cheese is delicious all on its own, a sprinkling of toasted breadcrumbs would be an ideal way to serve it.
(about 1 pound) peeled and seeded butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Freshly ground black pepper, plus more for serving
finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves (from about 3 sprigs)
finely chopped fresh sage leaves (from about 12 leaves)
garlic cloves, minced
warm water, plus more as needed
1 1/2 cups
(1 12-ounce can) full-fat evaporated milk
freshly grated nutmeg
dried pasta, such as medium-sized shells or elbow macaroni
sharp white cheddar, grated (about 3 cups)
Parmesan, grated (about ⅔ cup), plus more for serving
- Melt the butter in a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the squash and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring often, until tender enough to smash with a spatula without much resistance and beginning to brown, 15 to 17 minutes. Add the rosemary, sage, and garlic and cook, stirring often, just until the garlic is aromatic and no longer raw, about 1 minute.
- Increase the heat to high and add the warm water, evaporated milk, 1½ teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, and nutmeg. Bring to a boil and add the pasta. (The pasta won’t be completely covered by the liquid.) Boil over medium-high heat, stirring often, until the pasta is al dente and about two-thirds of the liquid has evaporated, 12 to 14 minutes. If at any point the liquid evaporates before the pasta is tender, add additional warm water (1/2 cup at a time) and continue cooking.
- Remove the pot from the heat and add both cheeses. Stir until the cheese is completely melted and has emulsified into a creamy sauce. Let the pasta sit for 10 minutes. If the sauce becomes too thick, adjust the consistency by adding additional warm water 1/4 cup at a time.
- Season to taste with additional salt and pepper and serve immediately with more back pepper and parmesan, if desired.